In the family

Denron is all that is great about family businesses. The firm's General Manager, Ron Derbyshire Jnr, tells us more about the advantages that being family-owned and operated bring.

Denron, based in Plettenberg Bay in the Garden Route, is the epitome of what's good about a family business. Initially B (Bertie) Derbyshire & Sons, it was named after those sons: Dennis and Ronald when it was formed in 2000.

And the family roots don't end there as Ronald's son Ron Jnr tells me. "I was always involved in it growing up but I officially started working there in 2006".

Now General Manager of Denron, he says a brother-in-law works for Robcon Civils (a registered Civil and Building Construction Company); Dennis's wife Karen also works for Denron and Denron's Company Secretary Len Vlok is a cousin.

The company, Ron Jnr says, is structured with Denron, the leading supplier of aggregate, ready-mix concrete and earthmoving equipment, as the holding company, and then Denron Quarries, Denron Ready-mix, which sells quality concrete and Denron Mobile Crushers, which can "go in anywhere there is crushing job country or continent wide".

The other company inside the Denron Group of Companies is Robcon Civils, who are civil building contractors and have been involved in a lot of Governmental low-cost RDP housing, road works and civil services infrastructure building.

While the extensive networks of companies are firmly entrenched in the Garden Route area - largely active in the Garden Route and western part of the Eastern Cape at the moment -they are happy to do discuss doing business anywhere in South Africa or Africa as opportunities open up.

Indeed its mobile crushers work exclusively outside of the Garden Route.

But initially the fortunes of the company and its home area seem to have been linked as Ron Jnr says: "from about 2003 to 2008 there was a housing boom in the Garden Route and that helped us to grow."

And it was quarries, even though they nowadays involve a tremendous amount of red tape and in-depth environmental research, which Dennis, Ronald and Roland Jnr "grew up with" and the company are presently in the process of acquiring a new one which they will be opening up.

And it is at the quarries where the family and staff members learnt the art of crushing, which Ronald Jnr sees as a very attractive growing niche market.

"It grew out of our quarrying industry because basically when our grandfather started his business he started crushing stone so my dad and my uncle basically grew up with the quarries and I grew up with the quarry and a lot of our staff too – because a quarry also has a crusher so it was there we learnt the tricks of the trade.

"In 2006 we bought our first mobile crusher and now we have got five mobile crushers and one portable crusher so we have got six crushing plants.

"We can now move all over the country where there is a road contract. Generally we will do crushing on road contracts," he says.

It's the mobile crushing that Ron Jnr sees as key to growth and what he would like to see the company get more involved in.

"There are very few specialist guys that do it. There are probably four other companies that specialise in it in SA so it's quite a niche market and we are quite experienced at it so we have got the know-how and there is a lot of demand for that at the moment," he says.

Given the structure of the companies, Ron Jnr says as the market fluctuates each of these elements will outdo the others at different times.

"We are pretty much a third and a third and a third. A third would be the quarrying, so the selling of sand and stone, a third is renting out machines and that includes expertise because they need skilled operators – the guy pays us x amount and we do the whole thing for him and the other third is ready-mix concrete.

"And those are all different companies now. They trade independently with their own VAT numbers etc."

As much of 70 percent of the business that comes their way is linked to the tendering process, either through their own tenders or when their speciality services are included or factored in to other businesses tenders.

One of the interesting things is how the businesses support each other with Denron for instance hiring out machines to Robcon for road or infrastructure work. They have also hired equipment out for the construction of the Eastern Cape Province's Jeffries Bay Wind Farm and have trucks working at the second one at Oyster Bay as well.

And because of their flexibility they are able to go very small and sell sand to a man with a wheelbarrow but also provide equipment and skilled staff to very big contractors.

With a staff that fluctuates between 400 and 600 depending on the amount of causal workers needed, the company takes its social responsibilities very seriously and erected the Bitou Youth Centre in the socially deprived New Horizons town while also establishing the Denron/Komatsu Training Centre in Plettenberg Bay.

As Ron Jnr says "the Garden Route is made up of two economic extremes and there is not really a middle ground."

Quite a lot of the population still live in squatter camps although the RDP houses are making a difference.

Considering the relative deprivation in the area the training centre plays a big role, teaching literacy and providing meals and training. "We've probably helped to train a couple of thousand people and found jobs for them in companies like Woolworths and even the hotels," says Ron Jnr.

And Japanese maker of construction machinery, Komatsu? How did they get involved?

"They heard about the centre and asked to be involved as they wanted it to be part of their social responsibility programme. So they provide a bus that transports students from the township to the centre and contribute probably about 10 percent of the funding for the programme."

Dennis and Ronald Snr are still very much hands-on, "100 percent, even though we are trying to work them out, but no luck at the moment," laughs Ron Jnr, and the business looks to be in safe family hands for the foreseeable future.

Bertie Derbyshire would no doubt be extremely proud!

Words: Susan Miller

Image: Supplied

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